Tullockian Wisdom

by Don Boudreaux on December 23, 2008

in Politics

Here’s an op-ed that I have in today’s Christian Science Monitor on Gordon Tullock, Rod Blagojevich, and rent-seeking.

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Sammy December 23, 2008 at 11:19 am

Good piece. It seems something other than self-interest is needed to explain Blagojevich's behavior. I've found that abiding by law is an excellent way to serve my self-interest.

Rolo Tomasi December 23, 2008 at 3:11 pm


Not getting speeding tickets is definitely in my self interest. But sometimes I push my car a few miles per hour over the speed limit to save a little time. I haven't been caught yet. Maybe I could get away with 10, 15 or even 20 mph over the limit.

Or in other words: If you give a mouse a cookie and don't keep a close eye on the cookie jar…

Sam Grove December 23, 2008 at 3:16 pm

It seems something other than self-interest is needed to explain Blagojevich's behavior.

It seems a certain amount of arrogance is often involved.

Morgan December 23, 2008 at 5:28 pm

How big a step is it, really, from "I'll appoint someone who has earned the favor" (the standard "ethical" politician's way) to "I'll appoint someone who earns the favor" (Blagojevic's way)?

The fundamental problem is rent granting, the ability to give away as "deserved favors" things that don't rightly belong to you, whether it's tax revenue or a position in a representative government. Well, that, and thinking that doing so makes you a good person.

The arrogant naturally tend toward politics – they like the idea that their decisions will have the force of law – and so politicians have always tended to be arrogant. But with their power, over time, good politicians shape things to cater to that arrogance – expanding the scope of their powers, and increasing the number and size of favors they can dispense.

And if there's one thing Democracy does, it's ensure the election of good politicians.

Baltimoron December 23, 2008 at 5:34 pm

It's like how subsidies cause other states to reciprocate with their own protections. Blago is hardly an innovator in claiming rents, and obviously none too talented at it. He's competing against other more dogged leeches. He's just the tip of the iceberg in Illinois.

Mike Farmer December 23, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Very good article on the fundamental problem and fundamental solution. Blagojevich is a symptom.

Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 9:05 pm

"Not getting speeding tickets is definitely in my self interest"

Your Rolo Tomasi, "the one who gets away with it." :)

Against the Grain December 23, 2008 at 10:50 pm


I started reading your blog expanding from econtalk. I think you make excellent points and I learn from your writing.

I would add that Blagojevich demonstration is not that he is more greedy or corrupt than others, but is not learned in the craft of political rent seeking.

And as self interested as our politicians are, it is our form of repulic governence that has provided the most prosperus social organinzation. I want better but understand that it is a process that we go through to get the governence that we live with.

MT December 24, 2008 at 10:32 am

There is another side to the coin. Many court government favor to avoid punishment wielded by government power. For example, Microsoft used to ignore government, donating money to none and hiring no lobbyists. The anti-trust suit stopped all that.

Oil Shock December 25, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Merry Xmas Professors.

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